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All the way back in the 1970s, monster-sized headphones became all the rage. But in the 1980s, portable music players began to emerge, and headphones began to shrink in size.iPod debuted in 2001 with a pair of sleek, white earbuds in every package; all of a sudden, earbuds were in demand for listening to music on the run. Today, earbuds are still ubiquitous, but headphones are emerging as an increasingly popular alternative, despite their girth. So which device suits you best to enjoy your favorite tunes?

Before presenting factors to consider before choosing the right device for you, we need to determine what are earbuds and headphones.  



Also referred to as “In-ear headphones” or “Earphones”, these devices are meant to be worn inside the pinna (the part of the ear that you can see).


This term refers to devices that are not meant to rest in the pinna – whether they go around or on top of the ear.

Headphones essentially consist of two small speakers attached to a headband. The headband fits across the top or back of the user’s head and the speakers rest upon the ear and emit sounds from outside the ear. 

There are two types of headphones:

On-ear headphones (Supra-aural headphones)

These headphones rest on your outer ears; they cover your entire ear surface, but don’t entirely seal them.

Over-ear headphones (Circumaural headphones)

These fully enclose each ear, completely closing off the surroundings.





In-ear headphones are typically much lighter and far less bulky. This means they’re quite portable, which is why you see people with wires hanging out of their ears every day in cafes, on sidewalks and at work.  Typical earbuds insert into the ear canal or sit just outside, and provides sound in a very portable format.

On-ear headphones

on-ear wireless headphones

If you want more portable headphones, but don’t like in-ear models, then a nice, compact on-ear headphone is for you. Still, even when folded, a pair of on-ear headphones is going to take up considerable space, compared to earbuds.

Over-ear headphones

Noise cancelling wireless headphones

These are not highly portable, and they won’t be as compact as a pair of on-ear phones or in-ears.


Noise isolation

How well do they isolate you from sounds other than the ones you’re trying to listen to? More noise isolation is generally better; it also means that you’re less likely to bother other people with your music.

Noise cancellation

Noise cancellation is completely different from noise isolation. Noise isolation is something that all of the sound devices have. Noise-cancelling devices, on the other hand, actually do some additional signal processing before you get the sound. They detect ambient sounds outside of your headphones or earbuds and then reverse the phase of the sound waves, which cancels them out.


A properly fitted pair of earbuds will give you excellent noise isolation. It makes sense; if you are wearing them properly, they actually form a complete seal with your ear canal. No sound in, no sound out, outstanding isolation. 

The sound quality of earbuds can be just as good as any headphone model, but usually they tend to deliver inferior sound quality, especially when it comes to bass tones.

On-ear & Over-ear headphones

Headphones tend to be slightly better at noise cancellation than earbuds of a similar quality. They do a great job at providing natural isolation and you hear exactly what you need to. Over-ear headphones are also the most popular platform for active noise cancellation (NC). These products reject outside noise by sampling the environment with a pair of external microphones, and then playing back that noise out of phase. The inverted waveform affectively removes the noise, leaving you with your music – and a much greater dynamic range.

Also, the biggest advantage with headphones is that they deliver superior quality, especially when it comes to capturing bass tones. 


What is more comfortable? This is clearly a matter of personal preference.


If you find a model that suits you, you will see a lot of benefits, as earbuds are great for exercising and don’t warm your ears, as on-ear and over-ear models do. Earbuds also don’t interfere with glasses and earrings or affect your hairstyle. 

In summary: If you choose earbuds that fit your ears comfortably, they can be great; if not, they can quickly start to become irritating. Some people also find earbuds hurt their ear canals, while others simply can’t wear them because they always slip out of their ears.

On-ear headphones

Comfort is a huge win for on-ear models. They don’t tend to “sweat” as much as over-ear phones, so they can be worn for extended periods of time. Since on-ear phones tend to weigh less than their over-ear counterparts, the headbands tend to be more comfortable as well, applying less direct pressure to the top of your head.

Over-ear headphones

These headphones can be either comfortable or extremely uncomfortable. You need to look for a thick, padded headband that will distribute the weight well across the top of your head. You also want ear cups that won’t sweat easily, so you can wear the phones for a longer time. Plus, a nicely fitted pair of over-ear headphones that covers your whole ears can keep them warm!

In the end, it all comes to personal taste. Headphones tend to be more comfortable on the ear and to reproduce sound better than earbuds. However, earbuds are great for travelling or if you really need good isolation.


This post won’t tell you exactly which headphones are better, but it will hopefully help you understand what differentiates each model and why some people prefer one style to another.

Earbuds and headphones both have pros and cons, and the best device for delivering your tunes will depend on the circumstances and on your preferences.

The sounds emitted by headphones and earbuds are simply DIFFERENT. One can’t say better or worse, except for personal taste.

If you want to enjoy high-quality sound, headphones are your best bet. They’re also great for enjoying tunes in your home or at work. But if you’re working out at the gym or commuting, earbuds are probably better, due to their light weight and portability.

Still not sure which is best for you? Many people purchase both earbuds and headphones, swapping them out depending on the circumstances. That way, you’re ensured of always getting the sweetest sound of all.



Author Description

Natalia LIdovskikh

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